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I’ve mentioned frequently that I’m a total, unmitigated, irredeemable dog snob, and I refuse to apologize for that fact. Boxers are my passion. I have also owned and loved mixed breeds, but my heart always leads me back to the Boxers, and I also confess to a preference for other purebreds. There’s just something about looking at a purebred dog, and saying, “That is a stunning example of a Golden Retriever,” or “Wow, look at that beautiful Rottweiler,” or “I just love the markings on that Great Dane” that pleases me. It’s who I am.
Now, I’ve also rescued on occasion. Sometimes, it’s been just a matter of taking a dog for a few days until I could find him a suitable home. Other times, I’ve ended up keeping the dog. Invariably, though, when the dog has become a permanent part of my household, it’s been a purebred of some sort, and I’m not going to apologize for that either. In my world, purebreds are sometime keepers; mixed breeds get re-homed. Again, it’s just who I am, so take it or leave it.
I’ve learned that I’m not alone, though. An informal survey of several friends and acquaintances revealed that although pretty much anyone I know would help a dog in distress, if they were actually to get involved in rescuing on any serious level, they would want to help the dogs of the breed that they love most. Of course, that also includes owners of mixed breeds who said, “I’d love to help the mutts.”
So, what should you consider if you want to get involved in purebred rescue? Well, first you need to know that it’s not exactly going to be a walk in the (dog) park. It will take its toll on your emotions, but you’ll probably also find it very rewarding. You should know that you’ll find no shortage of purebreds in need of rescue too. In fact, it’s estimated that about one quarter of dogs that end up in animal shelters are purebreds.
How can that happen, you ask? Well, it happens in a number of ways. Some purebreds end up in shelters because they’ve run away, and it hasn’t been possible to locate their owners. Some are surrendered by elderly or ill owners who can no longer care for the dog and have no friends or family who can help out. And, hard as this is to fathom, some simply arrive at the shelter to be turned over by people who say, “He’s a good dog, and he has no behavioral issues, and he’s healthy, but I just don’t want him anymore.”
Some purebreds have more of a chance of being adopted than others. Because of their reputation, Rottweilers and Pit Bulls are usually the first to be euthanized (I talked about this in Breed Stereotyping – Why It’s Harmful, and Why We Need to Fight It). Even so, in most shelters, dogs (even purebreds) are only kept for a few days. Then they’re either adopted or euthanized to free up space for the lineup of dogs waiting for space.
This is where rescuers come in. Rescuers offer a second chance to a dog that might not live if it’s not adopted, and it can be particularly satisfying if you know you’re working to help your breed of choice. So, now let’s talk about the three things you should consider if you want to get involved in purebred rescue.
Purebred rescue actually began as a movement about 15 years ago, when breed fanciers began to organize to help find homes for purebred shelter dogs and purebred dogs that were confiscated in cases of neglect or cruelty. Today, there are literally thousands of rescuers devoted to practically every breed. This relieves congestion at shelters and gives good dogs another chance at a happy life.
Rescuers can be breeders, owners or exhibitors. Some come to rescuing because a single dog touched their heart, and others sort of entered by way of the back door, finding a dog just by chance or by helping a friend who had to re-home a dog. Some rescue associations developed quickly while others took years to form.
There are also independent rescuers who don’t work with associations. They might work tirelessly canvassing local businesses for donations to help with their rescue efforts, or they might even form a corporation with a friend or two so that they can benefit from tax deductions. Independents can also save thousands of dogs.
What you need to know, though, is that whether you are working with an association or on your own, rescuing is a volunteer job. You won’t get a paycheck. In fact, even if you have an outstanding fundraising strategy, you could still end up out of pocket. That’s because if you’re committed to rescuing purebreds, you’re inevitably going to come across dogs that are in poor shape and need veterinary care, dogs that are hard to handle and might need the services of an animal behaviorist or trainer, and dogs that might need to be transported from one location to another at a cost.
As I’ve already stated, it’s going to be hard on your emotions as well. You might take in a dog to foster, and end up having your heart broken when he leaves for his forever home. You’re also going to have to deal with owners that are ignorant or just plain uncaring, and that can take its toll. Many people who give up their dogs have good reasons: divorce, death, illness, allergies or some other crisis. Others, though, will give up a dog just because they couldn’t be bothered with proper training and ended up with behavioral problems, or because they just got bored. You’ll have to deal with all types.
So, before you decide that you want to get into purebred rescue, know exactly what you can give in terms of time, money and emotional resources. Rescue work can be very rewarding, but it can also be draining.
Think about what you can bring to purebred rescue. Can you provide a foster home, do PR work, raise funds, help train, or transport a dog to his forever home? Pretty much everyone can do something. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Foster Home: A foster home provides a transitional, comforting environment for a dog that might be undergoing temperament evaluation, recovering from spaying or neutering, recuperating after an injury, or another issue that might make it impractical to place the dog right away. Foster families perform all sorts of valuable functions, like observing how the dog reacts to people and other animals so that the dog can be matched with the right forever family. As a foster parent, you’ll learn, for instance, whether a dog is good with other animals, or whether he has aggression issues that might make it a bad idea to place him in a home with a small child. You’ll be contributing in no small way to ensuring that the dog ends up in the home that’s right for him.
2. Dog Spotter: A dog spotter is a person who visits local shelters in search of dogs of a certain breed, and then arranges for a foster home. As a dog spotter, you will need to form relationships with staff at the shelters. It can be a frustrating task, because not all shelter staff are as helpful as they should be, but remember that you are holding a dog’s fate in your hands. So try to respond pleasantly even in the face of antagonism.
3. Fundraiser: Fundraisers are the backbone of any rescue operation. They can solicit donations, organize community events like raffles and auctions, and host fundraising dinners. In short, they can do just about anything that will put money in the pot.
4. Transporter: The name pretty much says it all. As a transporter, you can pick a dog up and take him to his new home, do a long-distance rescue, or take a dog to the groomer or veterinarian.
5. Kennel Provider: If you have kennel space, you can help out when a foster home is not immediately available.
6. Training: If you are good at training, you could train rescue dogs yourself. Or, if you’re not, you could see if local obedience clubs have trainers who would be willing to work with a rescue dog.
7. PR: You could blog, or create ads, or seek the assistance of local media to promote the benefits of rescuing purebred dogs. You might arrange appearances at local fairs or malls, and create promotional materials like brochures and posters. You can also canvass local groomers and veterinarians to see if they would be willing to offer services for free or at a nominal cost.
From the above, you have almost certainly identified certain strengths that you can bring to purebred rescue. If you’re working with a rescue group, and not sure exactly where you might fit, ask them what they need. Everyone can do something.
I’ve said it twice already, and I’ll say it again: rescuing is tough on the emotions. I think it’s even harder when you’re involved in purebred rescue. I know that when I think of any dog being harmed, or afraid, or unwanted, it breaks my heart. When it’s a Boxer, it’s that much worse. So you’re going to have to focus, and arm yourself with the tools, techniques and mindset that you need to avoid burnout.
1. Understand that you will never be able to save them all, so don’t go on a big guilt trip if you can’t fit one more dog into your household or if a placement falls through.
2. Stand by your decisions. It’s easy to overthink, and ask yourself “If I’d done something differently, would there have been a better outcome for that particular dog?” Maybe there would have been. Maybe not. Make the best decisions you can with the information you have, and don’t go back over and over. Move on to the next dog.
3. Don’t judge. It’s probably perfectly natural to want to hate someone who’s given up their dog for what you perceive to be a poor reason. Remember that you don’t know everything that’s going on in someone else’s life. That guy who tells you “I just don’t have time for him anymore” might be too embarrassed to say “I lost my job and the bank is foreclosing on my house, and I might end up living on the street, but I want a better life for my dog.”
4. Understand that it’s okay to say, “No.” Rescuing can be very demanding, and it’s often tempting to try to take on more than you can handle. Don’t do it; that’s a one-way ticket to burnout. Just explain that what’s being asked is more than you can deliver, and don’t feel guilty about it.
5. Learn to accept euthanasia. It’s unfortunate and it’s heartbreaking, but sometimes all you can do for a dog is provide a kind end.
6. Don’t always be in “rescue” mode. I know that rescuing is very important to you, but remember that you have friends, and family, and perhaps pets of your own. Don’t neglect them; you’re not doing them any favors, and it’s bad for your mental health, too.
7. Know when to give it up. If you’re feeling depressed, making bad decisions, not finding rescue as rewarding as it once was, or you’re finding that you just don’t care all that much anymore even though you very much want to care, those are signs that you’re heading full speed down the tracks toward burnout. I know; you’re saying, “But they need me!” Let me give you a reality check: the world keeps on spinning
8. Know when to quit. “The world got along after Abraham Lincoln was assassinated. The world has kept on spinning after World War I, World War II, Vietnam and countless other skirmishes. It has stayed on its axis after assassinations of presidents and civil rights leaders. It has twirled away following earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions and more. The purebred rescue world will manage without you. And if at some point you feel refreshed, you can always get back on board.
Follow these basic guidelines, and if you feel at some point that you need to jump ship, do it.
Purebred rescue can be incredibly rewarding. It can also be beyond stressful. But if you know what you have to bring to the table, and you know when you’re reaching your limits, you really can make a difference to the breed you love.